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  • Writer's picturePresbyterian Reformed Church

What is Sanctification? Larger Catechism Question 75 B

(This transcription of LC Q. 75 Part B was developed from Dr. Young’s handwritten notes dated October 25, 1992 which is exactly one week after his sermon on Part A. The audio of this Part B sermon was not found in his archives.)

Sanctification is a work of God’s free grace. It has its source in the electing love of the Father and its ground in the redemption Christ has wrought, and its direct cause in the work of the Holy Spirit. By it the whole man is renewed after the image of God. The work itself is described in the second half of L.C. 75: “having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise to newness of life.” An account of this work is given to us in Romans VI, where the Apostle Paul repudiates the antinomian distortion, expounds the doctrine of free justification, and stresses that those who are justified are also sanctified by reason of their union with Christ in his death and resurrection. V. 4 stresses the newness of life answering to the Redeemer’s resurrection, while v. 6 inculcates the mortification of sin resulting from the believer’s being crucified with Christ. Let us consider each of these two aspects of sanctification, vivification and mortification.

First, vivification is spoken of in v. 4 and mortification in v. 6. The one does not take place in time before the other, but both occur together and the new life expresses itself in the destruction of the body of sin. These two belong together as do union with Christ in his death and union with Christ in his resurrection, v. 5. Vivification is the work of the Holy Spirit implanting the seeds of repentance and all graces, Acts XI, 18 and I John III, 9 and stirring up, increasing, and strengthening these graces, Jude 20, Heb VI, 11-12, Eph III 16-19, Col I, 10-11. Take note that the divine sovereign activity of the Holy Spirit does not diminish human responsibility, but rather establishes it. The believer’s duty is emphatically enjoined in “building up yourselves”, “be not slothful”, “being fruitful in every good work.” Only where all diligence is given can the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit be in operation. His work is the cause, the believer’s activity is the effect of that cause as well as the means by which the Spirit produces this newness of life. Note also that it is not only in the first beginning of what Professor John Murray has called “definitive sanctification”, but in continual supplies of grace from the same Spirit that sanctification goes on throughout the Christian’s life on earth. The work is a work of grace from the beginning to the end. This rules out all man’s devices to improve his character and conduct by moral habits and behavior, while it not only provides the strongest incentives to walk according to the rule laid down in the moral law, but the Holy Spirit works that obedience, in the hearts and lives of those in whom he dwells. Rom VIII, 9-11. Observe the emphasis on the body as the object of the vivifying work of the Spirit in I Cor VI, 11, 15, 19-20.

Secondly, as newness of life flows from the union with Christ in his resurrection, so mortification of sin results from being crucified with Christ, v. 6. Crucifixion with Christ is central to the Gospel. See Gal II, 20. and Gal VI, 14. Galatians V, 24 speaks of crucifying the flesh with its affections and lusts. This follows from being crucified with Christ. Thus Romans VI, 6 speaks of our old man being crucified with him. The old man is no other than the flesh, the corrupt nature we have brought with us into the world. Ephesians V, 22 enjoins putting off the old man, see Col III, 9, where the old man is said to be “put off”. The old man has been put off in regeneration, but must still be put off in mortification. To the same effect is the body of sin spoken of. This is not literally the human body, which is not to be destroyed, but figuratively sin is represented as a body with its various members, the lusts of the flesh. See Gal V, 19-21. The members on earth to be mortified are mentioned in Col III, 5, 8. Either sin is mortified or it will kill us. Rom VIII, 13. It is through the Spirit that we mortify the deeds of the body. We mortify, but not in our own strength, but through the Spirit. The mortifying of sin is not what vain man is prone to suppose. It is not simply reformation of conduct or even of character. Abstaining from sin to avoid consequences is not mortification of sin. Nor are the austerities that some have looked to mortifying of sin, nor what Scripture is speaking of, nor what those who are sanctified experience. Means warranted by the word are to be used, but even those do not themselves mortify sin. It is the work of the Spirit of God.

The consequence of the destruction of the body of sin is “that henceforth we should not serve sin”. In the state of fallen nature, we are the slaves of sin. Sin is personified as king ruling over Adam’s race. Rom VI, 17 ”... that ye were the servants of sin”. Now, united to Christ by faith, “being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness”. Rom VI, 18-20.

One writer observes that mortification is not a legal, but an evangelical work. “There are convictions and compunctions wrought by the law, but that which kills sin in the heart, is the application of the death of Christ”. We commonly think of the death of Christ as the ground of our justification. In out text and its context, the death of Christ is seen as enlivening our sanctification. See also Eph V, 26-27, Titus II, 14.

Application: Do you know anything of this work of the Holy Spirit in your life? If a good work has begun in you, the graces the Spirit has imputed will be stirred up, strengthened and increased and sin will be mortified more and more. Do not confuse holiness with morality. You must be united to Christ by faith, and derive from his atoning death and glorious resurrection the graces he imparts by his Spirit to meditate on the word as it speaks of Christ crucified and risen, and pray that the Holy Spirit would apply the fruit of the finished work of Christ to your whole being.

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